Hebrews 13 – Living A Positive Christian Life
A. Instructions for body life.
1. (1-3) Express brotherly love.
Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them; those who are mistreated; since you yourselves are in the body also.
a. Let brotherly love continue: The writer to the Hebrews used the ancient Greek word philadelphia here. He assumed there was brotherly love among Christians. He simply asked that it would continue among them.
i. In the ancient Greek language of the New Testament, there were four words at hand that we might translate love.
· Eros was one word for love. It described, as we might guess from the word itself, erotic love, referring to sexual love.
· Storge was a second word for love. It referred to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child or between family members in general.
· Agape was another word for love. It is the most powerful word for love in the New Testament, and was often used to describe God’s love towards us. It is a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when it is rejected. Agape love gives and loves because it wants to; it does not demand or expect repayment from the love given – it gives because it loves, it does not love in order to receive. Agape love isn’t about feelings; it is about decisions.
ii. But the word for love used in Hebrews 13:1 is philadelphia, coming from the root philia. This ancient Greek word spoke of brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. There should always be plenty of this kind of love among Christians, and it should continue.
b. Do not forget to entertain strangers: Hospitality is an important virtue and often it is commanded of Christians and leaders (Romans 12:10-13, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7-8, 1 Peter 4:9). In the ancient world, where “motels” did exist, they were notorious for immorality. It was important for traveling Christians to find open homes from other Christians. This was simply a practical way to let brotherly love continue.
i. Because of the free offer of hospitality, Christians had to watch out for people just masquerading as Christians so they could leech off the generosity of God’s people. As time went on, Christian leaders taught their people how to recognize these deceivers.
ii. The Didache was an early church “ministry manual,” written perhaps somewhere between 90 and 110 a.d. It had this to say about how to tell if a false prophet abused the hospitality of those in the church:
Let every apostle that comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain except one day; but if there be need, also the next; but if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread . . . but if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet that speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this one sin shall not be forgiven. But not everyone that speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the true prophet be known. (From The Ante-Nicean Fathers, Volume 7, page 380)
c. Strangers: The point is that we do this for other Christians who are strangers to us. If you invite your best friends over for lunch, that is wonderful – but it doesn’t fulfill this command. A wonderful way to fulfill this command is to meet and befriend strangers at church and to entertain them with hospitality.
i. The ancient Greek word for hospitality (used in passages like Romans 12:13) is literally translated, “love for strangers.” Brotherly love means love for all our brothers and sisters in Jesus, not just those who are currently our friends.
d. For by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels: When we are hospitable to others, we really welcome Jesus (Matthew 25:35), and perhaps angels. Abraham (Genesis 18:1-22) and Lot (Genesis 19:1-3) are examples of those who unwittingly entertained angels.
e. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them: Prisoners here probably has first reference to those imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel. But it can also be extended to all who are in prison. This is just another way to let brotherly love continue.
2. (4) Honor marital love.
Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
a. The bed undefiled: The Bible strictly condemns sex outside of the marriage commitment (fornicators and adulterers God will judge). But the Bible celebrates sexual love within the commitment of marriage, as indicated in The Song of Solomon.
i. “Fornication and adultery are not synonymous in the New Testament: adultery implies unfaithfulness by either party to the marriage vow, while the word translated ‘fornication’ covers a wide range of sexual irregularities.” (Bruce)
b. Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled: Perhaps through a past of sexual sin many find it difficult to believe that the marriage bed is undefiled. Guilt and sexual hang-ups are appropriate to extra-marital sex, but not in marital sex. Yet this is where the guilt and sexual hang-ups often exist and where they most frequently cause trouble.
i. The enemy of our souls wants to do everything he can to encourage sex outside of the marriage bed and he wants to do everything he can to discourage sex inside the marriage bed. Christians must recognize this strategy and not give it a foothold.
ii. Though God allows great freedom in the variety of sexual expression in marriage, all must be done with a concern for the needs of their spouse and in love (1 Corinthians 7:2-5 and Ephesians 5:21-33).
3. (5-6) Learn contentment over covetousness.
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lordis my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
a. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content: Covetousness is the opposite of contentment. Often covetousness and greed are excused or even admired in today’s culture, and are simply called “ambition.”
b. Be content with such things as you have: Contentment has much more to do with what you are on the inside rather than what you have. The Apostle Paul had the right idea in Philippians 4:11-13: Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
i. Someone asked millionaire Bernard Baruch, “How much money does it take for a rich man to be satisfied?” Baruch answered, “Just a million more than he has.”
c. I will never leave you nor forsake you: “You that are familiar with the Greek text know that there are five negatives here. We cannot manage five negatives in English, but the Greeks find them not too large a handful. Here the negatives have a fivefold force. It is as though it said, ‘I will not, not leave thee; I will never, no never, forsake thee.’ ” (Spurgeon)
i. “Here it is – ‘For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ This is the reason why we must not be covetous. There is no room to be covetous, no excuse for being covetous, for God hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ We ought to be content. If we are not content, we are acting insanely, seeing the Lord has said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ ” (Spurgeon)
ii. “I cannot under the influence of this grand text find room for doubt or fear. I cannot stand here and be miserable to-night. I am not going to attempt such a thing; but I cannot be despondent with such a text as this, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ I defy the devil himself to mention circumstances under which I ought to be miserable if this text is true. Child of God, nothing ought to make you unhappy when you can realize this precious text.” (Spurgeon)
d. So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper.” Real contentment comes only when we trust in God to meet our needs and to be our security. Strangely we are often more likely to put security and find contentment in things far less reliable and secure than God Himself.
4. (7) Follow your leaders.
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.
a. Remember those who rule over you: We are told to recognize and follow godly leadership in the body of Christ, leadership shown to be legitimate by faithfulness to the word of God and by godly conduct.
i. Paul advised Timothy along the same lines: Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:16).
b. Whose faith follow: Such leaders should be recognized (remember those) and followed. Just as much as a church needs godly leaders, it also needs godly followers.
B. Instructions in worship.
1. (8) The enduring principle: the unchanging nature of Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
a. Jesus Christ is the same: The unchanging nature (which theologians call immutability) of Jesus Christ could be inferred from His deity, even if it were not explicitly stated. God doesn’t change over the ages, so neither does Jesus, who is God.
b. Yesterday, today, and forever: His unchanging nature provides a measure for all Christian conduct, particularly in the word and in worship. We should not expect something completely “new” as if it were from a “new Jesus.” The nature of Jesus as it is revealed in the Bible is the same nature of Jesus that should be seen in the church today.
2. (9-14) Following the rejected Jesus.
Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.
a. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines: There is never a shortage of various and strange doctrines in the church. The ones specifically in mind here seem to deal with a return to Mosaic ceremonies and laws that were fulfilled in Jesus.
b. For it is good that the heart be established by grace: Our hearts will only be established by grace. We are established by an understanding and appropriation of God’s undeserved approval of us, and not by an assumed approval gained through keeping a list of rules (not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them).
c. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat: Other Jews probably branded these Jewish Christians “illegitimate” because they did not continue the Levitical system. But the writer to the Hebrews insisted that we have an altar, and it is an altar that those who cling to the Levitical system have no right to.
i. Essentially, our altar is the cross – the centerpiece of the Christian Gospel and understanding (1 Corinthians 1:18-24 and 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
d. Jesus . . . suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach: If our Savior was rejected and His sacrifice (performed at the cross, our altar) was branded illegitimate, we expect no better. Identifying with Jesus often means bearing His reproach, the very thing many are unwilling to do.
i. Outside the camp: The camp refers to institutional Judaism, which rejected Jesus and Christianity. Though these Christians from Jewish backgrounds were raised to consider everything outside the camp as unclean and evil, they must follow Jesus there.
ii. “It means, first, let us have fellowship with him. He was despised; he had no credit for charity; he was mocked in the streets; he was hissed at; he was hounded from among society. If I take a smooth part, I can have no fellowship with him: fellowship requires a like experience.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “A sorry life your Master had, you see. All the filth in earth’s kennels was thrown at him by sacrilegious hands. No epithet was thought coarse enough; no terms hard enough; he was the song of the drunkard, and they that sat in the gate spoke against him. This was the reproach of Christ; and we are not to marvel if we bear as much. ‘Well,’ says one, ‘I will not be a Christian if I am to bear that.’ Skulk back, then, you coward, to your own damnation; but oh! Men that love God, and who seek after the eternal reward, I pray you do not shrink from this cross. You must bear it.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “If you can dwell with the wicked, if you can live as they live, and be ‘hail-fellow well met’ with the ungodly, if their practices are your practices, if their pleasures are your pleasures, then their god is your god, and you are one of them. There is no being a Christian without being shut out of the world’s camp.” (Spurgeon)
e. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come: The difficult job of bearing His reproach is easier when we remember that the city or society we are cast out from is only temporary. We seek and belong to the permanent city yet to come.
i. In bearing His reproach we face great difficulty and suffering. The good news is that for those who bear His reproach, this world is the worst they will ever have it. For cowards who turn their back on Jesus, this life is the absolute best they will ever have it.
3. (15-16) Our sacrifice.
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
a. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God: Because we do have an altar (the cross) and we do have a High Priest (Jesus), we should always offer sacrifices. Yet they are not the bloody sacrifices of the old covenant but the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips.
i. The writer to the Hebrews explains several essentials for proper praise.
· Praise that pleases God is offered by Him, that is by Jesus Christ, on the ground of His righteousness and pleasing God
· Praise that pleases God is offered continually, so that we are always praising Him
· Praise that pleases God is a sacrifice of praise, in that it may be costly or inconvenient
· Praise that pleases God is the fruit of our lips, more than just thoughts directed towards God. It is spoken out unto the Lord, either in prose or in song. “What proceeds from the lips is regarded as fruit, which reveals the character of its source, as the fruit of a tree reveals the nature of the tree.” (Guthrie)
ii. “Loving hearts must speak. What would you think of a husband who never felt any impulse to tell his wife that she was dear to him; or a mother who never found it needful to unpack her heart of its tenderness, even in perhaps the inarticulate croonings over the little child that she pressed to her heart? It seems to me that a dumb Christian, a man who is thankful for Christ’s sacrifice and never feels the need to say so, is as great an anomaly as either of these I have described.” (Maclaren)
iii. “So, then, we are to utter the praises of God, and it is not sufficient to feel adoring emotions.” (Spurgeon)
b. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased: Praise is not the only sacrifice that pleases God. We also please God with sacrifice when we do good and share. Praise and worship are important, but the Christian’s obligation does not end there.
4. (17) Follow your leaders.
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
a. Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive: We are to be submissive to the leaders God gives us (assuming they have the character mentioned in Hebrews 13:7). We are simply told to obey those who rule over us. When speaking on the authority of God’s Word, leaders do have a right to tell us how to live and walk after God.
i. Sadly, some take the idea of submission to leaders in the church much too far. The “Shepherding Movement” was a clear example of this kind of abuse (which many seem to welcome, wanting someone else to be responsible for their lives). “A teacher should teach us to submit to God, not to himself.” (Chuck Smith)
b. As those who must give account: We obey and submit to our leaders because God put them in a place of responsibility and accountability over us. Of course, this does not relieve individual responsibility but it puts an additional accountability and responsibility upon leaders.
c. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you: Cooperative conduct is not only a joy to leaders, but it is profitable for the whole body. It is for our own sake that we should obey and submit to God-appointed leaders.
C. Concluding remarks.
1. (18-19) A request for prayer.
Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.
a. Pray for us: The writer to the Hebrews considered it important that others pray for him. We all need and should welcome the prayers of others.
i. In the grammar of the ancient Greek language, pray is in the present imperative verb tense. It indicates continuous activity and implies that they were already praying for the writer of this letter.
b. That I may be restored to you the sooner: Obstacles prevented the writer from being reunited with his readers. He knew that prayer could remove those obstacles.
i. I especially urge you to do this: As far as the writer to the Hebrews was concerned, their prayers determined if and when he is reunited with them. This shows how seriously he regarded their prayers for him.
2. (20-21) A blessing is pronounced.
Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
a. Now may the God of peace: This is a blessing in the style of the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:22-27: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
i. After asking his readers to pray for him, the writer to the Hebrews prays for his readers. “The apostle had exhorted the Hebrew believers to pray for him in the words, ‘Pray for us;’ and then, as if to show that he did not ask of them what he was not himself. Willing to give, he utters this most wonderful prayer for them. He may confidently say to his congregation, ‘Pray for me’ who does unfeignedly from his soul pray for them.” (Spurgeon)
b. Now may the God of peace: In this blessing God is first recognized in His attributes: peace, power (brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead), loving care (that great Shepherd), and ever giving love (the blood of the everlasting covenant).
i. Some take the idea of the everlasting covenant to express the covenant that existed before the foundation of the world between the Persons of the Godhead, working together for the salvation of man. Other passages which may speak to this everlasting covenant are Revelation 13:8, Ephesians 1:4, and 2 Timothy 1:9.
ii. Some however simply take the everlasting covenant as another name for the New Covenant.
c. Make you complete in every good work: This expresses the desire for blessing, wanting God’s working in you, and all through Jesus Christ.
3. (22-25) Conclusion to the letter to the Hebrews.
And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words. Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly. Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Grace be with you all. Amen.
a. Bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words: The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of his purpose. His desire was to write a word of exhortation to encourage discouraged Christians, both then and now.
i. In Acts 13:15 the phrase word of exhortation refers to a sermon. Perhaps the writer to the Hebrews means in Hebrews 13:22 that he gives his readers a written sermon.
b. Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly: These final words give us a few tantalizing hints of the writer’s identity. But these words only tell us that the writer knew Timothy and that he planned to visit his readers soon. It also tells us that his readers were based in Italy (Those from Italy greet you), probably in the city of Rome.
c. Grace be with you all: This is a fitting end for a book that documents the passing of the Old Covenant and the institution of the New Covenant. Grace be with you all indeed, under what God has given through the superior Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen!